Platforms: PS Vita and PS3
Release Date: September 23, 2014
ESRB: T for Teen
This review is based on the PS3 version of the game
Have you ever wondered what would happen if you combined underaged anime girls with the power of ancient deities, and also gave them all the ability to fly? Honestly, I haven“t, since it sounds horrifying, but if I were to wager a guess, Arcana Heart 3: Love Max!!!!! is what the developer Examu came up with when mixing those elements together. Examu may not have a whole lot of consistency as a fighting game developer, but the Arcana Heart series has its place as a strange gem among anime-ish fighters despite its anime-pandering motif. Now, more than three years since the first version of Arcana Heart 3 launched, Examu decided to update their former release with Love Max on both PS3 and Vita.
If you have never played Arcana Heart before, it may seem daunting because of how different it feels from most fighting games. For instance, the primary means of movement is not by double-tapping forward or back (but it's there), but tapping the homing/glide button to fly directly to your opponent. Arcana Heart is kind of a beast of its own with its relatively unique systems that have an emphasis on gliding, arcana, clashing, and more, all in the midst of what would otherwise seem like standard fare for a 2D fighter.
Mechanically speaking, Arcana Heart 3: Love Max!!!!! is actually a good game at its core. The cast of characters play quite varied: like Scharlachrot, who uses lengthy chains to both detonate traps and to traverse to battlefield; Zenia, who has skills that can destroy an opponent's guard if timed perfectly; or Kamui, who sacrifices to her health to strengthen her swords(wo)man abilities. There are a lot of mechanical nuances to take in and this isn't even going into the Arcana system which helps make the series feel even more distinct.
Even now the Arcana system is something I would like to see other fighters, like the Persona 4 Arena series, try to copy. Arcana are essentially interchangeable summons that can fundamentally change a character's playstyle, from the skills they have available to even general movement. For example, the literal moe blob (Kira), is a grappler with poor movement and limited range options, but you can change her Arcana to negate her shortcomings. If you wanted to, you could change Moe Blob's Arcana to Metal, which allows her strong ranged skills in addition to her already intimidating close range skills, or you could directly increase her mobility with the Evil Arcana which allows her to teleport. There are many Arcana combinations and it is completely up to one“s playstyle in how they want to make them work with each character.
Taking a cue from Blazblue: Chrono Phantasma, the newest modification to the central gameplay is how it plays much faster than the original Arcana Heart 3 release. The primary problem with earlier games is that they played fairly slow in sharp contrast to the mobility and options the characters are given. That said, modifying the in-game speed is kind of the only aspect that they have gone out of their way to improve in Love Max beyond character re-balancing. The 2D visuals have shown their age and they still come as a product of SD fidelity. It is also disappointing that there are no new characters at all, or even Arcana, giving a strong feeling of re-release syndrome for anybody who has played the previous release.
While mechanically solid in combat, everything about Arcana Heart's character designs screams shameless anime pandering or a tired character archetype of some sort. Normally I wouldn't draw too much attention to this had they not introduced a completely unnecessary â€œAfter Storyâ€ visual novel component to Love Max. You could infer that the storytelling wasn“t very good from the arcade mode in earlier games (re-titled "story" in this release), but â€œAfter Storyâ€ somehow found a way to make it much worse and take significantly longer to complete. If you want a summary of it, the entire â€œplotâ€ builds up towards a hot springs scene, and that“s how it ends as well. There is no greater context, or real reward for completing it, it was pretty much made for a perverted CG panel at the end and to emphasize how pretty much the entire cast of characters are incredibly vapid. Ugh, I regret of all my time with it.
Trying to ignore the pain that â€œAfter Storyâ€ induces, there is not a whole lot added to Love Max from the original release of 3. If you“re a masochist you could go out of your way to watch new story scenes and 100% the gallery, but aside from that the mode selection is pretty bare bones and the new ones, like Trial and Time Attack, are quite underwhelming. More disappointing is that key modes you would expect from most fighters are merely just serviceable. The online play is functional but not great, training mode is alright but doesn't really go the extra mile like Capcom, Arc System Works, or Lab Zero fighters, and lastly, the tutorial is... no wait, there is no tutorial. I always find it to be a real shame when fighting games do not have tutorials, in particular for something like Love Max that has so many systems and character specific nuances to learn and it does absolutely nothing to draw in a new crowd beyond adding a button-mash friendly "simple" mode.
Arcana Heart 3: Love Max!!!!! is a solid game for those who can overlook its presentation and adjust to its obtuse mechanics, but as a re-release it is completely underwhelming. There are no new characters, Arcana, and most of the new modes are not noteworthy in the slightest, with the newly-added â€œAfter Storyâ€ having been better off not existing at all. The core game is faster and more enjoyable, but as a complete package it does very little to invite newcomers or, regrettably, series veterans who aren't the most devout fans.
+ Diverse cast of playable characters
+ Much-faster and more enjoyable gameplay from previous releases
+ Unique gliding and versatile arcana fighting mechanics
- No new characters or Arcana added since the original Arcana Heart 3 release
- Awful "After Story" mode that is a complete waste of time
- Dated aesthetic and unappealing character designs
-Sparse amount of modes and options to draw in new players
Overall Score: 6.5 (out of 10)
A mechanically solid fighter that is unfortunately held back by its lackluster overall package as a re-release
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS3 code provided by the publisher.